Proof of Heaven: Dr. Eben Alexander 3/3

Today, I’m concluding a three-part series on the non-fiction book, Proof of Heaven, written by Dr. Eben Alexander as he discusses his Near Death Experience (NDE) after he contracted a rare, often deadly form of E-coli meningitis. Here are Part I and Part II.

Toward the end of the book, Dr. Alexander lists the current medical theories offered as explanations for NDE’s and why he now completely discounts them and now has a firm belief that there is a loving God and Heaven.

1. Primitive brainstem program to ease terminal pain. Discounted due to the vibrant nature of his experience.

2. A distorted recall of memories from the limbic system. Again discounted for the same reason as above.

3. Endogenous glutamate blockade with excitotoxicity– mimicking the hallucinatory anesthetic, ketamine. I mean, really, this is how smart and scientific he viewed this process. As he explains in his book, he’d seen people under the effects of ketamine and the hallucinations are nonsensical whereas his were not. I would agree with that regarding ketamine as we use it for conscious sedation in the ED.

4. DMT dump which is a naturally occurring serotonin that causes vivid hallucinations. Dr. Alexander confesses to experiencing some hallucinations with drug use in his teens and argues against this theory because you’d have to have a relatively intact, functioning brain for which he did not while in his coma.

5. Functioning areas of cortical regions but he discounts this considering the severity of his meningitis.

There are four more that he lists in the book. What Dr. Alexander did do that I found interesting was write down his experience with as much detail as he could before he read about other NDE experiences so as not to taint his own perception or tarnish his data. Then he thoroughly researched what others had scientifically proposed and steps through why they are not relevant.

Overall, I found this to be a very fascinating book. It does at some points read like a textbook but I think we in the medical community need to pay attention to the spiritual aspects of our patients as part of their illness/injury process and I think learning from people who have had these experiences can help us to that.

Proof of Heaven: Dr. Eben Alexander 2/3

In today’s post, I’m continuing my discussion on Near Death Experiences or NDE’s by highlighting Dr. Eben Alexander’s book Proof of Heaven. Here is Part I

Each medical specialty has a definite stereotype. I’ve found that most labor and delivery nurses have had cheerleading background. I. Kid. You. Not. For a while, I asked every L&D nurse I knew if they did cheerleading in highschool and ALL said yes.

I found that a very important job requirement for labor nurses because heaven knows if you didn’t have that affinity, you would get TIRED of coaching women through labor shift after shift. I mean, I was rolling my own eyeballs at myself at what a pain I was when I delivered my own children.

Neurosurgeons are the same way. They are very cerebral. Smart. But not always personable. I’ve only met one or two that could interact socially in a pleasant way– like the ham it up, crack-a-few jokes kind.

That is not to say they are not friendly . . . just so above (not in a snooty way) the average person intellectually. I mean, think about how intelligent you have to be to operate on the smartest, fastest biological computer ever created.

That’s the sense that I got about Dr. Alexander. Driven. Uber-smart. I’m sure he has a Mensa card for sure. He bought into all the normally offered medical explanations for NDE.

I think God has a funny sense of humor. I imagine Him thinking– how can I get Eben’s attention? This man who loves the brain and its chemistry and lives and dies to fix it. What would be the one disease I could give him to convince him of My presence?

How about . . . meningitis. And not just your average, run-of-the-mill easily curable kind. But one that is so rare that most people die of it. So rare that you have a risk of 1:10 million chance of contracting the disease. Whereas you have a 30% chance of being in a serious car accident in the next year.

And that’s what happened. Dr. Alexander contracted a rare form of E-coli meningitis. Generally only seen in adults if you’ve had neurosurgery or traumatic brain injury (I’m guessing skull fracture that would disrupt the normal protective nature of the bones.)

Dr. Alexander’s meningitis did not respond to antibiotics. He was comatose for seven days. The family was at the point where they were considering withdrawing life support.

And while he was in that coma– he had a NDE that changed his whole outlook on life and caused him to discount every previous medical theory he’d bought into from a very analytical, scientific point of view. That’s what we’ll talk about next post.


TV Show Once Upon A Time: Why it Rakes my Nerves

First off, I am a fan of this show where fairy tale characters have been thrust into real life in current times. The show centers around the actions of Snow White’s step-mother the Evil Queen. She is the head meanie on the show and her curse thrust them all into our realm of existence.

Of course, the red apple comes into play. Said evil queen wants to get rid of the one chracter who can lift her curse– but instead her son takes a bite of the poisoned apply turnover and falls ill.

One thing I love to hate about television shows is their one lined-medical-declaritive statement. In this episode, when the child who consumed the poisoned pastry was rushed to the hospital– unconscious– the physician takes one look into his pupils and says. “Well, there doesn’t appear to be any signs that he ingested a neurotoxin.”

Wow! Really?!? Just one look at his pupils told you that.

Hmmm— how about the fact that he is unconscious. That could be sign #1.

LOC or level of consciousness is considered by some to be the most sensitive indicator of how good or how bad your brain is working. So, a patient that is unconscious– well, something is affecting the brain. It may not be stemming from the brain itself but it is making the patient ill enough that they’re “lights out”.

And yes, a neurotoxin can do that.

Next– there are lots of different types of neurotoxins and how they effect the body.

Here’s one short list.

So, quick lesson. Try not to make declaritive statement. They are likely to get you into trouble.

And really, Once Upon a Time– nurses DO NOT wear caps anymore.


How Neuroscience Helps Create Characters

As a big neuroscience fan myself, I’m so excited to have Maree Kimberley posting today about how (being a medical nerd like myself) she used her research into neuroscience to help create her characters.

Welcome, Maree!

My fascination with neuroscience began in 2009 when I read Norman Doidge’s The Brain that Changes Itself. Doidge’s explanation of brain plasticity, and of how the scientific community had discarded the centuries old idea that the brain was fixed, struck a chord with me.

A few months earlier, I’d finished my M.A. in creative writing where I’d explored how characters in young adult fiction showed resilience. One of my key research texts was The Boy who was Raised as a Dog by Bruce Perry. Perry’s case studies, gathered through his working life as a child psychiatrist, led him to believe that trauma experienced as a child changed that child’s brain, causing sometimes irreparable damage.

After I read Doidge’s book about brain plasticity, the two concepts—brain changes caused by early childhood trauma and the brain’s ability to rewire itself—opened up for me a new way of thinking about how my own teen aged characters acted and behaved. Before I knew it, I’d signed up to do a PhD with neuroscience in young adult fiction as my topic.

I hadn’t studied any science since the middle years of high school. And yet I found myself devouring not only the more generalist/popular books on neuroscience but articles published in scientific journals. I borrowed a copy of Neuroconstructivism:how the brain constructs cognition and made copious notes on the writers’ theories on how every gene, every experience and every aspect of a child’s environment work together to ‘construct’ their brain.

I bought myself a copy of Kolb and Whishaw’s The Fundamentals of HumanNeuropsychology and began working my way through it, chapter by chapter, learning about brain anatomy, how the human brain is organised and trying to familiarise myself with topics such as the principles of neocortical function (I’m still working my way through it—it has 800+ pages!). I became obsessed with not only learning more about how the human brain works (or how we think it works) but what this meant for me as a writer of young adult fiction.

The text books are great as resources when I want to use technical terms in my writing; however, the scientific journal articles have a broader purpose. I’m fascinated by the debates about what a new neuroscientific discovery might mean and discussions about where the discoveries might take humans in the not too distant future.

These debates and discussions are, for me, a treasure trove of ideas. The idea might not come directly from reading the article. Sometimes when I’m writing, something I’ve read from a neuroscientific article will connect with a character’s actions or behaviour, and that will spark further exploration about who that character is and why they do what they do.

For my current work in progress, which I’m writing for my PhD, I have written in-depth character profiles (around 5000 words each) for several of my main characters. Going back to the core theories of neuroconstructivism and my reading in neuropsychology, I delved back into each character’s past: who their parents and grandparents were; how their parents met; what their lives were like growing up; details about significant incidents or experiences they had.

I didn’t need to be a neuroscientist to write these character profiles but having some insight into how the brain might construct who we are and who we might become gave me a different focus. It made me really think about who each character was—about their traits, abilities, aptitudes, flaws, actions and reactions.  It led me to insights about characters I doubt I would have had if I hadn’t taken this approach.

Reading neuroscientific texts isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. However, for me, using medicine in fiction is not just about getting the technical aspects right (like making sure you know adrenaline is injected into the thigh, not the heart!).

Neuroscience gives me another way to view my characters, to analyse them more clinically, perhaps, and to get to know them from a different perspective. Neuroscience helps me look into the brains of my characters, and that brings my characters to life.


Maree Kimberley lives in Brisbane, Australia where it’s nearly always sunny. She holds a Bachelor of Creative Industries and a Master of Arts, both from Queensland University of Technology. She has published short stories, feature articles and a children’s book and has several novel-length manuscripts hidden away. Apart from neuroscience, her obsessions include the grotesque, bizarre and somewhat strange. She also has a thing for circuses. Maree enjoys combining her obsessions into stories: some work and some fail dismally. She has a sneaking suspicion that it’s the bad stories that make her a better writer. Maree is on Twitter @reebee01